Wednesday, 11 August 2010

day 1: education

we saw the new moon tonight, which is quite unusual for us. it's usually cloudy or difficult to find, but tonight it was bright and clear. so ramadan mubarak to all my muslim friends, and hoping that the month goes well for you.

today is the first day of my project to examine my privilege, and to appreciate the things i've been blessed with. i need to make clear in my own mind as well as for my readers that i speak about privilege not because it makes me better than anyone else. it doesn't mean that people who don't have these privileges don't have value or don't have successful lives. on the contrary, i would think that people who manage to live their lives without having had the benefit of these privileges are much better people than me. nor do i want to encourage the feeling of pity towards others, because i always think of pity as a demeaning emotion. empathy and understanding are valuable, but feeling sorry for someone always carries the implication that you feel superior to them and i can't really bear that nor justify it in my own mind.

having set the scene, the first privilege i want to talk about is education. i know that i'm enormously lucky to have had the benefit of very good quality pre-school, primary, secondary & tertiary education. i attended well resourced schools with qualified teachers. i was lucky to live in an area of hamilton where the public schools were of really high quality, and because a lot of the population was connected to the university, there were kids who valued education and wanted to succeed.

i can't say that i always enjoyed school, and i've written about some of my early experiences here. but even so, just having access to that education has provided enduring benefits throughout my life.

education has economic benefits, in that it allows access to good paying jobs. but education is also a guard against oppression. it is much harder to oppress people who have a good understanding of their rights, and of avenues to available to oppose power. education leads to empowerment, as the educated person develops the ability to argue back and to assert her position.

i think one of the main issues facing muslim women around the world today is a lack of education, particularly in theology, fiqh (jurisprudence) and history. with adequate education, they would be more effective in countering the control of religious leaders who seem to very easily forget or ignore religious rulings of benefit to women. they would be more able to challenge the power structures around them from a place where they feel comfortable and secure.

education brings enrichment. the ability to read, write, share ideas, debate, discuss, discover, research, innovate. it opens up whole new worlds to explore. education enables us to benefit others as we research and develop new medicines, products, procedures, processes. most of all it helps us to better ourselves.

the majority of us have this mindset in the world today that education is something we do for a limited time, in our childhood and youth. you get an education, and then that phase of your life is over. you then go on to get a job, maybe get married and have a family, or follow other pursuits. but education is finished. i think it's a sad way to think. as a muslim, i'm taught to value and engage in education throughout my whole life. there is no end period, no time when you can say that you have "completed" your education. i think there is a bit of a sense of that "lifelong learning" concept tied in with adult & continuing education, which this government has pretty much killed. it's very sad.

there's also, amongst some, a contempt for education and the educated. the notion of ivory towers and of academics being out-of-touch or somehow not part of the people. many school pupils live in an environment where educational achievement is uncool, and we have lovely words like geek & nerd to put down those who are particularly smart academically. i also find this sad - that people get to live in an environment where they have reasonably good access to education, but they don't value it.

compare this to those who have no access. spare a thought for those children who are forced into work at a young age in order to survive. or who can't afford school fees, and who don't have access to books. no text books, no childrens books with lovely pictures, no novels. no access to paper and writing materials.

think about those who know that school is just around the corner but they aren't allowed to attend, because the powers that be don't believe they deserve an education. or that a certain level of education (say primary level) is enough for girls. those who live in families of limited means where the available funds go towards the education of boys, because girls will get married and leave home so there is no economic benefit to educating them.

even in our own country, think of the caps tertiary institutions are putting in place & the students that are now being turned away from universities because the government is refusing to invest money in our young people's education. although they are quite happy to give tax cuts.

think about those who want an education, but just don't have the mental ability to get through the system they have to work with. NCEA and personalised learning are great in terms of providing positive learning experiences for our children, but national standards will undo a lot of that. and what about those in other countries who don't have personalised learning, but rather a rigid system where failure in education will mean failure at life.

think about those who want to learn but come to school without breakfast or having witnessed or been subject to abuse. who have to deal with drugs in the home or at school. who are being bullied and are afraid to come to school. who have a teacher they don't get along with or who is unsympathetic. who have little support at home - no-one to help them with their homework, to take them to the library, no internet connection or even a computer to do research from home.

i didn't have any of these problems. my parents took an interest, i had all the materials and support i needed, the bullying i was subjected to was never severe enough to hamper my education. i arrived at school well-rested, well-fed, physically able and ready to learn. all of these are huge privileges, and i am truly grateful for them.

books without borders is an excellent initiative for getting used books to the developing world. there are youth mentoring programmes where you can donate your time to supporting a young person - here's some information about that. most major charities have education projects that you could donate or contribute to - here is information from unicef. being an esol tutor means that you could benefit a migrant or refugee in trying to settle in this country.

even if you are unable to take part in any of these activities due to lack of time, money or any other barrier, spare some time to think about the value of education and to appreciate those who taught you. for those who may have suffered from any or all of the barriers to education i've mentioned above, or from other barriers that haven't even occurred to me because of my privilege, my thoughts and prayers are with you.


Deborah said...

I clicked through and read your piece about growing up Muslim in Hamilton. At about the same time as you were growing up Muslim in Hamilton, I was growing up pakeha/white in New Plymouth, and for a few years, I had a friend who was from Sri Lanka. Looking back, and reflecting on what you wrote, I can see that her parents must have been very lonely, even though there were some other Sri Lankan families in New Plymouth.

I know what you mean about the privilege of education. It was a core assumption in our house, that we would go to university. And it's a core assumption in my own house - my girls think of something they would like to do, and say, "Mum, what degree do I need for that?" I'm working hard on helping them to realise that there are routes other than university - giving them options and encouragement without putting too much pressure on them.

I was pleasantly surprised by my young students today: they were all able to see that a large part of their own success was due to the backgrounds they come from.

stargazer said...

yes, my children have had that expectation of going to university as well. i have a book called "see jane win", and it's about raising daughters. one of the key things i took from it was the importance of having high expectations of your girls. not so high that it put unfair pressure on them, but high enough to motivate them to succeed. many of the successful women interviewed in the book spoke about the fact that both their mother and their father expected them to do well, and how important that expectation was as a motivation to do well. i suppose i'd compare to expectations that you would leave school early, get married and have children. it's very hard to achieve in any other fields with those expectations around you.

Anonymous said...

Victor Hugo said that he felt pity was the highest emotion and the only foundation of a truly just justice system.

Then again, he was French, and I know how you feel about French people.

stargazer said...

i've had little respect for victor hugo ever since i read the hunchback of notre dame, a misogynistic piece of crap. has nothing to do with his being french, and i don't hate all french people - just certain policies of their rather nasty right-wing government. which is why i'd prefer my child didn't study french - it's a protest against those specific policies.